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Spring Classics season is ramping up, but the European stage racing season continues with the Volta a Catalunya (March 20-26), which this year features one of the toughest courses in recent race history.
The week-long race will feature three hard high-mountain stages among the usual challenging hilly and sprint stages, a perfect theatre for a showdown between GC contenders including Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), and Primož Roglič (Jumb-Visma).
The race will kick off with a hilly 164.6km test on stage 1, looping around the coastal town of Sant Feliu de Guíxols, offering up four classified climbs on the way to an uphill finish in the town that should suit the punchers and hardier sprinters.
Race leadership is likely to change hands a day later as the peloton hit the mountains on stage 2 with a 165.4km stage to Vallter in the Pyrenees. The climb, which measures in at around 11km and 7.7%, has recently welcomed the race in 2019 and 2014, when Adam Yates and Tejay Van Garderen soared to victory.
Stage 3 brings another mountain test, a 180.6km stage featuring the Coll de Coubet (a repeat from stage 2), the special-category Coll de la Creueta, and a finale on La Molina (12km at 4.5%), a race staple where Ben O’Connor and Miguel Angel López have won in recent editions.
Stages 4 and 6 are likely ones for the few fastmen who usually line up in Catalunya, the 188km ride to Sabadell and 183km to Molins de Rei both featuring flat finishes. Sandwiched between them on stage 5 is a visit to the climb of Lo Port, another summit finish, this time located in the south of Catalunya.
The 176.6km stage will see the riders take on largely flat terrain all day before facing the challenge of the 8.4km climb which averages a leg-aching 9% average gradient. Lo Port has been used once before, in 2017, where Alejandro Valverde set up his overall win with a stage victory atop the brutal summit.
As ever, the race concludes with a 135.8km circuit race around hilly laps of Montjuïc Park in Barcelona. The race isn’t often decided on the closing stage, but six ascents and descents of the Alt del Castell de Monjuïc often provide thrilling racing.